It has been drilled into me ever since I could remember that: “Kita bukan orang kaya.” After arriving in America it became, “We are NOT rich people.” We always had enough (and more) to eat but luxuries such as branded/new clothes (I wore Salvation Army winter coats), toys and books (only from garage sales) and eating out were rare. I had a weekly allowance but on no account was I allowed to spend it the way I pleased. I’d say 90% was deposited into my piggy bank which was an empty baby wipes container. My parents were big on saving. Everytime I won cash prizes at school, my first thought would be to belanja my family makan then save the balance. No, pop said. Save at least 50% then use the balance to buy books or geek paraphernalia i.e telescopes. Even today when my family fits the bill of a financially comfortable middle-class family right down to a T, my mom balks when I buy her RM10 teas or RM100 facials.
When I got my first job at 22 and became financially independent (or so I thought), I saved the bare minimum of 10% each month (thank you, Reader’s Digest) but went bonkers with the rest. I ate out as often as I could afford, I bought books 2-3 at a time and I indulged in buying teeny tiny tops (I was thin at the time). It felt so good to have money and spend it that all the good practices my parents taught me went out the window. When they asked how my savings were doing, I’d give a vague answer knowing deep down that even that inflated figure was nowhere good enough.
A couple years ago though I finally woke up to the fact that although I am blessed enough to have a great job that pays the bills, the good times won’t be forever. The oil & gas industry has peaks and troughs and those troughs can be pretty bad. Enter a new obsession in my life: making money. Tell me a story about how a certain investment plan can triple my savings in X years and see my eyes glow. Show me the forecasted dividends for unit trusts and get ready for shrieks of joy (after you explain what it means in ringgit).
But seriously, it has been a long, hard road to my finally getting the big picture. Financial independence and security is the best gift you can give yourself as an adult. The internet is an excellent source to educate yourself on money-related stuff. My current favourite sites are MSN Money and The Simple Dollar. Lots of simple, interesting articles on how not to be penny-wise but pound-foolish (I’m still working on that one). The retirement calculator was very very scary. So much so that I immediately called Stinky to remind him that he owed me 5 bucks and would he please give it back ‘coz it needed to go into our retirement fund. Haha.